Sue Downey talks about her career as a nanny.  You can find her at www.nannypalooza.com and on her Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.

What do you do for a living?

I am a nanny.

How would you describe what you do?

Being a nanny is really like doing a bunch of different jobs all rolled into one. On some days I am a teacher, counselor, laundress, chef, chauffeur. On other days I am an errand runner, baby whisperer, nurse and household manager. Every nanny position is different because every family is different and has unique needs. Your main focus in all respects will be the care and well being of children in their own home.

What does your work entail?

Currently my charge is 18 months old. So most of my day is spent making sure her basic needs are met- feeding, diapering, laundry, napping etc.. But also I plan educational activities for her, take her on fun outings, play with her and make sure she is hitting all her developmental milestones. As a nanny, you are also sometimes charged with handling small household tasks, errands or other things to make it easier for parents to spend time with the kids.

What’s a typical work week like?

I work a 45 hour work week. Nanny hours are long, but the day often has breaks while kids nap or are at school. In most nanny jobs, you will have the ability to plan your week- what things you will do with the kids and where you will go. You will take into account what you and the parents feel is appropriate. Nannies always follow the guidelines of the parents. We are there to help them.

How did you get started?

I sort of fell into it when I was out of college and looking for a direction. I had always been a great babysitter and thought I wanted to be a teacher- but that wasn’t for me. When a friend of the family needed someone to care for her 4 boys at a moment’s notice, I thought I would just help her out. I stayed with those kids for 3 and half years!

What do you like about what you do?

I love the fact that I can be an important part of a child’s life and have a very wonderful relationship with them, but at the end of the day I get to go home. It is like having the best of both worlds. I get paid to play and get to plan my own days. I love feeling like I am making an important difference to a family.

What do you dislike?

I dislike that nannies are not often thought of as professionals from the outside world. I often have to defend my career choice. Being a nanny means you have to search very carefully for a good match with a family also. You must agree on so many lifestyle and child philosophy issues. If those things don’t match, it is easy to become discouraged.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

The family pays me weekly.

How much money do Nannies make? 

There are not good averages for nanny salaries as there are so many variables. Will you live in with the family or live in your own home? How many children? How many additional responsibilities will you have?

I think for most nannies the average is probably around $500 a week. But again, it depends on where you live and what your job will entail. There are some statistics through the International Nanny Association, but they are not completely accurate as they are a small sampling. www.nanny.org

Live in nannies receive room and board as a part of their compensation, as well as a car to drive and insurance. This is not the case with live out nannies. Live out nannies are more common these days but there still are higher concentration of live in situations along the Eastern seaboard.

Live out nannies may get some benefits like a paid cell phone, help with health insurance or car insurance etc… but since every family negotiates individually with each nanny this is a hard thing to make generalizations about.

You will never get rich being a nanny and if advancing your career for you means always moving up the ladder financially- this career might not be for you.

How much money did/do you make starting out? 

Beginning nannies make just a little more than babysitters- probably somewhere around $15 an hour. Dependent on all the variables. When I started 20 years ago I made just over $7.oo an hour. As you gain experience you will be able to command a higher salary. Other factors may influence your rate as well such as a college education- but generally the market you live in and the job responsibilities are the biggest factor in salary.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

There are no requirements in this area. We are a completely unregulated industry. However, there are nanny schools that offer a certificate. The training is great- but it will not necessarily guarantee you a job or a higher salary.

To be a good nanny you must know basic child development, some information about discipline, nutrition, and health and safety for kids. You must know how to take direction, but also how to be self motivated and self directed. You must be able to follow social cues and have the heart of an educator.

Successful nannies have a true passion for working with kids of all ages.

What is most challenging about what you do?

Working with the parents is almost always the most challenging part! You are in someone’s home and caring for children. It is essential that you can communicate effectively with them and get on the same page. It is hard to work such long hours and often feel like you have little or no recognition. Also it is difficult because there is never an endpoint- your work is always in progress.

Being a nanny can be isolating as you are alone with children for large chunks, if not all, of your day.

What is most rewarding?

The relationships you form with the kids are priceless. You get a front row seat to watch a person literally come to life. You have the awesome and amazing responsibility to be a part of the journey. The kids pay you in hugs, kisses, and proud moments of accomplishment.

I also have enjoyed knowing that many working parents are able to have better relationships with their kids because of what I do. Making strong families in a very rewarding job.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Make sure you find resources to give you support. There are local support groups, national organizations, conferences and online options. Being a nanny can be so isolating and it is such a unique career. Having a support network is vital.

Make sure you collect reference letters and information on all your work with children. This will help you in your job search.

Nannies are very warm and friendly people! It’s why we do what we do! So if you have questions find a nanny and ask them. People who do this job really have a passion for it!

How much time off do you get/take?

Generally the standard 2 weeks a year vacation but that can be flexible based on the family. Often families want you to take vacation when they do so they do not have to find alternative care. This sometimes means you get more than 2 weeks off. Most nannies have a few sick or personal days as well. It is very dependent on the family you work for and how you structure your contract.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

That I am just a babysitter. Babysitters are awesome. But babysitters give custodial care. They come, make sure no one gets hurt, entertain and leave. Nannies do that but also worry and plan for larger goals and accomplishments. Nannies support the whole family. Nannies think beyond keeping a child safe and look to helping a child thrive.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

I hope that I can nanny until I retire. I also love to help mentor nannies coming in to the field. I hope that we as a profession can find a way to certify or gain a credential so that there are basic standards of care for all nannies.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

Being a nanny is a fun job. You won’t get rich, but you will make more than most other careers that involve young children. You will get to meet interesting people and do work that will challenge you physically and mentally. No two days are alike. It is a wonderful life!